A new friend asked me this morning, ”Do you know everyone at New Life?”
In a church of about 10,000-11,000 people, it’s impossible to know everyone. I do know a lot of folks though, and New Life makes it easy. If Disney Land is the happiest place on earth, then New Life is the friendliest.
Funny, though, that this time six years ago, when I was still an overspending newspaper reporter in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, I would still drive by Gateway Church, that big, hulking mega-church in Southlake, Texas and scoff, “Ick. I would NEVER go to one of those big churches!” I thought I would feel lost in a sea of “perfect Christians.” But small churches never appealed to me either, so I just didn’t go.
Sure enough, a friend invited me to Gateway and it felt like home from day one.
Never say never.
A couple of years ago there was a lot of buzz that Christians were trending away from big churches back to smaller ones. But I know anecdotally that a lot of them are coming back. Why? Connection.
The great thing about big churches is that with so many people, it’s easy to find a group, a circle of friends and a ministry that you uniquely connect with.
For example, I’m one of only a handful of pastors in the country who specialize in biblical personal finance. That’s very specific, and it meets an overwhelming need that most families have at some point in their lives. But in a smaller church that has one or maybe two pastors, that kind of specialization isn’t possible. The pastor has to try to meet ever personal need, and no person can do that.
At New Life we have pastors who specialize in marriage and family, women’s ministry, global outreach, young adults and more. We have small groups for people who are into motorcycle riding, hiking, golf, writing and, of course, Bible study, with groups specializing in every area of Bible study you can imagine.
When you have lots of options, you can get a good fit. You can find where you uniquely belong. And suddenly, big feels small.
Our church went through a lot of difficulties in years past after a scandal from a past leader and a shooting that claimed the lives of two New Life members. During the hard times, some people drifted away and looked around for a new place to call home. And who could blame them?
But a lot of those people are coming back. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting dozens of people in the past couple of months who are returning home to New Life and others who are joining us for the first time, looking for that fit.
And people are finding that connection all the time.
New Life isn’t perfect – no church is. After all, it’s full of imperfect people inside. And while I’ve only been here about two years, I’m so proud to call this big “mega-church” my home away from home.
This amazing group of people has come so far in what I hope someday will seem like a short amount of time.
When you have leadership that puts the focus on Jesus, and on connecting and serving and not on pomp and personality, you can have a church culture that helps people find what they’re truly looking for: a closer connection to God.
Isn’t that what church is about?
At the end of the day, buildings don’t matter. Programs don’t matter. Events don’t matter. Church size certainly doesn’t matter. In fact, I had to guess on our membership size earlier in this post because we’re not about head counts anymore. We’re about relationship. Connection. Service. Worship.
What should matter to every pastor, staff person, volunteer and leader at every church is, “Did we help people connect to God today? Did we help others? Did we demonstrate friendliness and compassion? Did we represent Jesus well?”
Finding that at church is a wonderful thing. If you don’t have it at your church, I would invite you to look around and see if you can find it elsewhere. But get connected – at a church big or small. Whatever feels like home to you. Just don’t settle for anything less.
Obviously, a large number of people feel at home at New Life. There is no other place I know where I can get 200 hugs before I’ve had my first latte.
That’s not something I take for granted, and it’s something I truly hope you have at your church too. Life’s too short to try to figure things out on your own. If you’re missing that connection, please find it in a place big or small. Size doesn’t matter – heart does.